‘How are you, with self-esteem?’
This is the question I was asked by a the kindly astrologer, last week, whose celestial wisdom I have sought out as I joined my friend at her annual reading and now It Is My Turn.
He sits opposite me, both of us on faded, cosy sofas, where who knows how many people have learned of the cosmic influences affecting their lives.
The fire is blazing. It’s cold outside, icy blue skies and damp leaf-ridden paths.
I’m in a magical pink house in the heart of the lake district, where outside I can just hear the roar of fast-moving water outside, from the river flowing with great force over the pebble-ridden riverbed.
My attention gets drawn back to the room I am in and his question rings in my ears.
‘How are you with self-esteem?’ he is asking.
What is it? I am thinking. And do I have it? And shouldn't I know what it is, given that feeling good about ourselves is at the heart of my work?
Is it self-care or self-respect or self-worth?
Is it something I think, or feel, or believe, or know, or do?
Where did I learn or not learn it? Where did it come from?
Is it pride? or confidence? ego-ism? narcissism? self-assurance? self-regard? vanity? self-satisfaction? morale? How do I know if I have a good one or not? :)
Two uninterrupted hours, a deep-dive into the interwebs and psychology archives, three cups of Yorkshire tea and a curly wurly later, and here’s what I’ve learned:
'Esteem' is about respect and admiration, yes, but also defined as 'considered as', 'believed to be', 'judgement'.
Self-esteem is an experience of ourselves, an evaluation; at its core is our judgement about ourselves.
It’s a stable sense of self-worth.
(if worth is defined as value, I’m wondering if it’s even possible to quantify the value of our worth as human beings. Like, why do we even have those thoughts in the first place? The leaves and trees and wind and animals aren’t wondering about their worthiness or comparing the shape of their leaves, or paws, are they? And has anyone noticed the sense of entitlement cats seem to stroll around with, lately?).
It’s our ability to believe we are able to cope with the basic challenges in life, that we deserve to be happy.
Competence and worthiness.
According to Nathaniel Branden's six pillars of self-esteem, it is all of these:
-being present to what we are doing as we do it,
-accepting our thoughts feelings and actions without evading, denying or disowning them,
-taking responsibility for ourselves as the authors of our choices and actions,
-being real in our dealings with others,
-refusing to fake the reality of who we are or what we esteem in order to avoid disapproval,
-being willing to stand up for ourselves and our ideas in appropriate ways in appropriate contexts,
-living with purpose and intention, taking action.
-learning, reflecting, starting again if necessary.
- personal integrity, living with congruence between what we know, profess and do, honouring our commitments, telling the truth.
I can think of the myriad of ways I’ve not lived these ways.
Having a pesky distracted mind, flitting here there and everywhere but in this moment right here.
Wanting a healthy body and giving up sugar and still eating a curly wurly without really tasting it, the ‘instant gratification monkey’ in me sticking two fingers up to the ‘future, healthy me’ as it gleefully scoffs it - future-sugar-free-me being desirable but too distant to resist the temptation of the creamy toffee and milky chocolate in the here and now.
Denying how I feel, and what I think (yes, of course we’ll come to you on Christmas Eve. What’s that, you need someone to fight the last minute shopping crowds to pick up your M&S food order? No problem. Whats that you say? Won’t an introverted crowd-o-phobe like me, find that draining and unpleasant? Never mind that. Shall I drive round and drop off some of those christmas cards for you at the same time? Oh, hello, resentment).
Burying emotions (I will *not* feel or acknowledge you, anger. I will not have a full-contact relationship with you, even if that person has well and truly crossed the line. Again).
Pretending to myself I’m going to do things: Me: “I’m going to get straight up and go for a run in the morning”. Also Me, the following morning - hits snooze button repeatedly.
Blaming others instead of taking responsibility. Pleasing, performing or perfecting. Hiding the parts of me I judge as unsuitable or a bit weird (stardusty-magical-unicorns-crossed-with-deep-shadow-integration-work, anyone?)
The foundations of our self-esteem seem to originate from early childhood - having responsive, present, emotionally available parents or caregivers are likely to leave us with a world view of getting our needs met and having clear and healthy rules and limits set by parents.
Since I've never actually met anyone who was brought up in those perfect circumstances (dysfunctional family bingo, anyone?), that probably means we've all got a bit of work to do.
You can check out some useful journalling prompts here. And if you want to dig a bit deeper with this work, you might want to do it with a therapist or coach, or come join us at a future workshop!
Image by Toa Heftiba at unsplash.com